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"... it does not take much intelligence to see Ilisu does not meet the guidelines for new dams." - Kader Asmal, Chair of the World Commission on Dams (in the Guardian, Friday, 17 November).

Over the last week, some of you may have seen the great media coverage on dams - and particularly Ilisu. The sudden flurry of interest was caused by the release of a major new report on dams, which was launched in London last Thursday by Nelson Mandela. The report, by the independent body, the World Commission on Dams (WCD), is the most comprehensive global assessment ever on the impacts of large dams. The report ends by recommending new guidelines for future dam-building AND ILISU BREAKS EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM.

This is a great opportunity to heap yet more pressure on the UK government. We have sent an open letter to Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, asking him to withdraw from the Ilisu project in the light of the WCD's report. The UK media, including the Guardian, Independent, Financial Times, the BBC News and Channel 4 all picked up on this story (see the quotation above!) Now we'd like your help. We'd like Stephen Byers to receive as many letters as possible on this issue. PLEASE SIGN AND POST THE ENCLOSED LETTER BELOW (or write your own!) TO STEPHEN BYERS AT THE ADDRESS SHOWN.

I've also listed some of the major media stories below, most of which mentioned Ilisu, so that you can see for yourself how important this development is. We really have a chance to stop UK support for the Ilisu dam: please give us your support.

Dear Secretary of State,

The World Commission on Dams: Implications for UK Support for the Ilisu Hydroelectric Project, SE Turkey

We are writing to draw your attention to the findings of the World Commission on Dams and their profound implications for possible UK support for the Ilisu Hydroelectric Project in SE Turkey. The WCD's report, Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making, lists seven major policy priorities: Ilisu contravenes each and every one of them.

For the UK to support the project would be tantamount to a de facto rejection of the report and, by implication, of international best practice in the planning and implementation of dam projects. We therefore urge you to act in accordance with the WCD's recommendations and reject Balfour Beatty's application for export credit support for Ilisu.

The WCD was set up by the World Bank and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1997 “to review the performance of large dams and make recommendations for future planning of water and energy projects”. Its independence - reflected in the composition of the Commission - is widely acknowledged; and its report, based on two and a half years of in-depth research and consultation, constitutes the most comprehensive, global review of the economic, social and environmental impacts of dams to have been undertaken.

The WCD's report provides ample evidence that large dams have failed to produce as much electricity, provide as much water, or control as much flood damage as their backers have claimed. In addition, the WCD report documents a regular pattern of economically damaging cost-overruns and delayed construction schedules. Furthermore, the benefits of large dams have largely gone to the already well off, while poorer sectors of society have borne the costs through displacement and ecological degradation. The report also disputes claims that dams can be assumed to be climate-friendly.

The Commission sets out a new framework for decision-making, based on five core values: equity, sustainability, efficiency, participatory decision-making, and accountability. The new framework is intended to ensure that decision-making on water and energy development “reflects a comprehensive approach to integrating [the] social, environmental and economic dimensions of development”, in addition to “creating greater levels of transparency and certainty for all involved”.

The Commission proposes seven strategic priorities and corresponding policy principles for water and energy resources development – gaining public acceptance; comprehensive options assessment; addressing existing dams; sustaining rivers and livelihoods; recognising entitlements and sharing benefits; ensuring compliance; and sharing rivers for peace, development and security.

We have reviewed these recommendations against the Ilisu Hydroelectric Project. We find that Ilisu contravenes all them in every detail.

- The WCD recommends that public acceptance must be gained, entitlements recognised, benefits shared, and compliance ensured for any dam project to go ahead. The Ilisu area has been devastated by armed conflict, and remains under emergency rule. Freedom of expression and freedeom of association do not exist, and the Kurdish communities affected by the Ilisu dam cannot voice their opposition to the project. In this context, there is no possibility that the measures recommended by the WCD could be implemented. Such measures include: ensuring that the project enjoys demonstrable public acceptance; negotiating mutually agreed and legally enforceable agreements with affected communities on resettlement and implementation; and ensuring compliance through independent and transparent review. So far, the project has been planned without any meaningful consultation or participation of the affected communities or their elected representatives. No resettlement plan for the project has yet been agreed. And those opposed to the dam - the majority in the area - have complained of harassment and intimidation.

- The WCD recommends that all water and energy projects must be based on comprehensive options assessment. A January 2000 report on Turkey by the International Energy Agency, citing the Turkish Government’s own State Planning Organisation’s 1996- 2000 Five Year Development Plan, concludes that “energy efficiency is considered the cheapest energy source [and] potential gains to be achieved by increased energy efficiency are substantial.” The IEA estimates “the total energy saving potential for the three consumptive sectors to be approximately 13.2 mtoe per year, corresponding to slightly more than the current final energy consumption in the energy sector.” The World Bank similarly notes that “considerable problems have plagued operations of the existing power infrastructure.” In generation, “the plant availability factor has remained low (40-60%) [and] the losses in the transmission and distribution network continue to be high at v18% of total generation (mainly in distribution).” Yet no comprehensive options assessment for Ilisu has ever been carried out. Many other options - notably demand-side management, improvements in transmission and solar - all represent less costly, more sustainable alternatives.

- The WCD recommends that the problems and potential of existing projects must be addressed before new dams are built. The Ilisu project is part of the gigantic Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), which comprises more than twenty dams on the Euphrates and Tigris. The existing dams have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Most of those evicted have not received any compensation or rehabilitation. In a report commissioned by the Swiss export credit agency, Export Risk Guarantee, World Bank expert Ayse Kudat points out that “there are still a large number of people affected by previously constructed dams who are still waiting to be resettled, sometimes for many years”, and that “in the past 30 years resettlement was [only] provided for about 100 families annually.”

- The WCD recommends that rivers and livelihoods must be sustained in any dam project. On the Turkish part of the Tigris alone, at least nine dams have been constructed or have reached the feasibility stage. Yet no assessment of the cumulative social and environmental impacts of these dams has ever been carried out, and so far, there is no environmental impact assessment for Ilisu which measures up to international standards.

- The WCD recommends that rivers must be shared for peace, development and security. The planned Ilisu dam threatens to disrupt the flow of the Tigris to Iraq and Syria. Turkey refuses to consult these riparian countries on the impacts of Ilisu and other dams. Professors Crawford, Sands and Boisson de Chazournes concluded in a detailed legal opinion for Friends of the Earth that building the Ilisu dam without such consultation would violate international environmental law on several counts. Their conclusion has been confirmed in an independent legal opinion prepared by Astrid Epiney, professor of international law at Freiburg University, Switzerland. The WCD report recommends that “where a government agency plans or facilitates the construction of a dam on a shared river in contravention of the principle of good faith negotiations between riparians, external financing bodies withdraw their support for projects and programmes promoted by that agency”.

In conclusion, the Ilisu project violates all seven strategic priorities of the WCD. To approve an export credit for Balfour Beatty's involvement in the dam would be to fly in the face of the WCD's report, which is already widely acknowledged as a milestone in the evolution of sustainable water and energy development policy and practice. The message sent to the international community would have severe repercussions for the UK's reputation abroad, undermining public confidence in its commitment to sustainable development. It would also signal that the Government's intended reform of the ECGD lacks substance.

We urge you to give serious consideration to this matter and to announce your withdrawal of support for the Ilisu Dam project.

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